With the launch of a new report into carers’ wellbeing, Age UK is calling for the Government to provide additional funding to enable carers to take a proper break after one of the most difficult years imaginable - as well as continuing our calls for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to fix social care for good.
After more than a year of restrictions, isolation and anxiety, carers are at breaking point. Almost three quarters (74%) are reporting feeling exhausted and worn out as a result of caring for a friend or loved one during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sadly, to those of us with knowledge of the social care system, this comes as little surprise. Even before the pandemic, many carers were struggling to get the support they needed for themselves and the person they care for. I wrote last year about the impact the first lockdown was having on carers. Little did any of us know that this was just the beginning of an extraordinarily difficult time - as our new report into carers’ experiences during the pandemic shows.
How are carers faring?
So here we are: one year, two devastating waves of coronavirus and three lockdowns later. Thankfully it looks like the situation is improving in the UK. Many of us are now enjoying the easing of restrictions which allow us to see family, eat out with friends or even enjoy a break away after many long weeks at home.
For carers, the lack of breaks has been one of the hardest things about the pandemic. With lockdowns severely reducing contact with family and friends and prompting the closure of local services, 81% tell us they’re providing more care than they were before - often without access to the support that they’d previously relied on.
Many carers have been on call all day, every day in the past year; on duty, never getting a full night’s sleep, and with no time to themselves or proper time with their own support networks. Unsurprisingly, many are now exhausted.
“I'd never want anybody to go through what carers have been going through these last 12 months’”
Elaine, 71, cares full-time for her husband Michael, 75, who has suffered a life-changing brain injury. Michael also has several other health conditions that mean he needs round-the-clock care. Elaine took the difficult decision to cancel the help she got from paid carers during the first lockdown as she felt she couldn’t risk Michael’s already fragile health.
“I can’t remember the last time I had more than four hours sleep,” Elaine says. “There have been many times where I just want to give up, where I wished I was dead. You just feel like you don’t know where to turn. There’s nowhere to run. You’ve just got to try and pull yourself together and cope with it.”
During the second lockdown, Elaine and Michael were able to form a bubble with some carers to help them. But they’ve been unable to see family, which Elaine describes as “really, really horrible.”
“The pandemic takes away the only time you have to yourself. I’ve missed that so much. Michael used to go to a day centre, so while he was there, I used to go shopping, which was lovely. I’d meet my son in his lunch hour and we’d go for a coffee three times a week. I’d be able to actually offload things. Also, one day a week, I’d pop up to see my daughter and have a coffee with her. I used to enjoy that so much. But that’s over 12 months ago now.”
Add your voice and make caring visible and valued
Elaine and Michael’s story has played out in homes across the UK - and it’s having devastating effects. 40% of carers haven’t had a day off for more than a year, and over two thirds (69%) say that their mental health has worsened because of a lack of breaks while caring during the pandemic.
Carers Week aims to raise awareness and understanding of caring so carers like Elaine feel visible, valued and supported. We’re asking you to add your voice to our calls for the Government to fix social care for good.
In the short term, we’re urging the Government to provide an additional £1.2 billion for carers breaks. This is time off from caring and a chance for carers to do the things they would like to do, but can’t do while they are caring – everyday things such as catching up with friends, going for a walk, or simply catching up on some sleep. It could be for 30 minutes, an afternoon, or a week. A break could be provided by accessing care services such as replacement care, sitting services, a day service, or through support from family and friends providing either respite or essential care.
Longer term, we need bold social care reform that provides proper support for carers, invests in care workers and means everyone can access high quality care when they need it. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to fix social care, and we’re determined to hold him to his word.
For now, all Elaine and Michael really want is a break. “I promised Michael early last year, before the pandemic, that we’d try and get to the Isle of Wight,” Elaine says. “We haven’t had a holiday for five or six years now, and he really loves it there. Of course, once the pandemic hit, I knew we couldn’t, but I was hoping that maybe we’d be able to go in September. Of course, that didn’t happen either.
“So hopefully this year, hell or high water, I will get him down on the coast even if we both have to sit in the car and just watch the waves. We just want to hear the sea. We just want to smell the sea. Just to be able to see the birds is really important to us.”
Break or breakdown - new report
Research released for Carers Week has found that carers lost, on average, 25 hours of support a month they previously had from services or family and friends before the pandemic.